A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on Manus Island following the closure of the Australian funded immigration detention centre on 31 October 2017. Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference spokesperson on asylum seekers and refugees. He made the following statement on 3 November. Bishop Long’s Statement “The safety and well-being of over 600 asylum seekers on Manus Island are at risk following the closure of the regional processing centre. These men, most of whom are proven refugees were held in mandatory and indefinite detention under an agreement between the Australian and PNG Governments. Now after more than four years, this agreement has not worked. It has failed to provide welfare and safety to the detainees. Furthermore, very few have been resettled elsewhere. Australia, which authorised the detention of these asylum seekers in the first place, cannot abrogate its responsibility. The situation on Manus Island is turning into a humanitarian disaster and it is a direct result of our governments’ failed policy. As a nation that prides itself on its respect for the rule of law and its globally responsible citizenship, we must find a workable and principled solution. It is time for us to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and refugees according to this nation’s proud tradition and the best nature of its citizens. We can do a whole lot better, just as we did welcome “those who’ve come across the seas” after the wars in Europe and in Southeast Asia. The concern for maritime border security does not have to make us into a mean-spirited people. This is not who our First Peoples are, nor should it be the characterisation of all Australians today. The policy of offshore detention has cost Australia dearly. But it has cost the detainees and their families even more. I appeal to the government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition. It is time to find an alternative and unconscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia. Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home. Those refugees accepted for entry to the US can migrate when their vetting processes are complete. The other refugees need to be able get on with their lives here in safety. People seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable members of our global community. It is imperative that they are treated humanely and with dignity. I urge the Australian Government to honour its international obligations, and continue its work within the region and with non-government organisations to ensure the safety of those seeking asylum.” Source: https://parracatholic.org/closure-of-manus-island-regional-processing-centre/ More on Catholic Social Teaching Concerning Asylum Seekers & Refugees The basic teachings concerning refugees are explained here. Teachings concerning migration are explored here.
Migrants, Refugees & the Gospel of Mercy The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office has prepared a kit for Migrant and Refugee Sunday 2016. It will help individuals, parishes, schools and communities to celebrate the event. The kit shares Pope Francis’ World Day of Migration Message for 2016, and a message from Bishop Vincent Long. Bishop Long is the Australian Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees and himself arrived in Australia as a refugee. The Migrant and Refugee Sunday kit also provides liturgy and prayer materials and an article about Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini. She is the universal patron saint of immigrants and we will celebrate the centenary of her death next year. Linking the event to the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Bishop Long said “as Christians, our attitude towards those in need is formed by our own experience of God’s love and mercy.” Thus “we can show them the love and mercy of God precisely because we ourselves are the recipients of the same love and mercy.” He sees “encounter and acceptance of others” as being “intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself.” Hence “welcoming others means welcoming God in person!” Bishop Long declared that the Australian Bishops “stand united with Pope Francis who has given us strong leadership on the care of asylum seekers and refugees.” His message welcomes the active assistance given by Catholic organisations and parishes to refugees and asylum seekers. He encouraged all Catholics “to enact the culture of encounter, welcome and acceptance in practical, personal and communal ways.” Get the Kit Download the Migrant and Refugee Sunday 2016 Kit here.
Bishop Vincent Long responded on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops to a High Court finding on 3 February 2016 that the offshore processing of the refugee status claims of asylum seekers is not contrary to Australian law. He called for compassion and mercy for families currently in Australia who are threatened with return to offshore processing centres, asking the Australian Government to focus on protecting these vulnerable people from harm and respecting their dignity. Bishop Long is the Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and the Bishops Conference’s spokesperson on refugees. He said: “I urge the Australian Government to ensure that no child is subject to an unsafe and harmful environment and that no-one is returned to where they may face physical, psychological and sexual violence and harm.” “The Catholic Church opposes mandatory detention and offshore detention because these policy responses do not respect the dignity of people seeking our help.” Read the full statement here.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s social justice statement for 2015-2016 is titled For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, making reference to the second verse of the national anthem. It is a strong call for justice for refugees and asylum seekers. The Bishops critique the policy responses of successive Australian governments to the relatively small numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia who arrive by boat. They also acknowledge the work being done by social service and community organisations to welcome asylum seekers and refugees while encouraging the community to do more. The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council provides a range of associated resources that complement the Social Justice Statement including a powerpoint presentation, a prayer card, community action resource and an action leaflet. Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, Chair of the Council, himself arrived in Australia by boat seeking asylum as a teenager. At the launch of the Statement he said: “‘Australia, like every other nation, has the right to regulate migration flows and assess the status of people seeking protection within its borders. And, certainly, we should be working to stop people smuggling and preventing deaths at sea. But these concerns must not lead us to treat asylum seekers and refugees with cruelty, harshness and injustice. Australia cannot claim the moral high ground and justify its policies by claiming they prevent deaths of asylum seekers at sea, when it offers no other way of giving protection and organising any avenue of safe arrival.” He also welcomed the announcement that morning by the Australian Government that 12,000 more Syrian refugees would be accepted.
Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees – What are the Basic Teachings? Catholic Social Teaching approaches questions of human mobility from the point of view of human dignity rather than legal status or national interest. It’s key questions are not about legal obligations or defending sovereign territory, but rather how right relationships with self, God, others and creation, would call us – as individuals, communities, nations and international bodies – to respond to people on the move. Catholic Social Teaching holds that anyone who is forced to move to preserve their lives or human dignity has a moral claim on the hospitality of others. The more vulnerable and needy the person, the greater their moral claim. Beyond responding to immediate needs it also requires the protection of rights and the transformation of the causes of displacement. Because every human person, regardless of one’s legal status or geographic location, has a transcendent dignity that must always be respected, people on the move should enjoy the full range of human rights, and others have a duty to see that they are respected, protected and fulfilled. According to Catholic Social Teaching, nation states exist to serve the human person by fostering, organising and promoting the common good. The dignity of persons comes before the interests of nation states and people must never be treated as means. Addressing the global phenomenon of migration requires all nations and international organisations to work together to ensure that all people and groups are able to meet their needs and achieve their potential, that is, to share in the common good. Effective expressions of solidarity are needed. National sovereignty should be respected and supported as long as sovereign states are willing and able to fulfil their responsibilities to respect and protect the dignity and rights of people within their jurisdiction and to promote the common good. The international community has a responsibility to support and assist where this condition is not met. This is how the principle of subsidiarity works. National sovereignty cannot legitimately be used as an excuse to neglect or abuse the human rights of people, no matter what their legal status, or to stand by while this happens. In practice however states do manipulate these concepts to justify their actions, sometimes with deadly results. For more detail, see Sandie Cornish, “People on the Move and Catholic Social Teaching”, Asian Horizons, Vol 8, No 4, December 2014 What are the Major Documents of Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees? Papal messages for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees have been issued for more than one hundred years, but migration and forced displacement have only really emerged as important themes in Catholic Social Teaching since the mid twentieth century. Pope Pius XII responded to the post World War II migrations affirming a right to migrate. In 1952 he issued the landmark document Exsul Familia Nazarathana. It was an Apostolic Constitution that set out how the Church should care for migrants, as a matter of charity, justice, and solidarity. Pope Paul VI updated Exsul Familia Nazarathana in 1969 with an Apostolic Letter called Pastoralis Migratorum Cura and the Sacred Congregation for Bishops followed up with the instruction De Pastorali Migratorum Cura. Refugees, A Challenge to Solidarity was issued in 1992 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace together with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. It addressed the growing refugee crisis and stresses on the international humanitarian law regarding asylum. By 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People was a need to again update the instruction on the pastoral care of migrants and Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi was issued. In 2013 the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum published pastoral guidelines on the care of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. It updates Refugees, A Challenge to Solidarity. The document is called Welcoming Christ in Refugees and Displaced Persons, and a discussion guide by Sandie Cornish is available here. During these years the social justice teachings of the Popes and Bishops also touched on questions concerning migrants and refugees in the context of their broader social justice teachings. This prezi by Sandie Cornish highlights the key positions taken. Where Can I Find Catholic Social Teaching on Refugees Quotes? Pope Francis has been very vocal about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. His first pastoral visit outside of Rome was to the island of Lampedusa, where many migrants land in Italy. Bishops Conferences in the Asia Pacific region have also consistently taught hospitality to strangers. Inspirational quotes on refugees from the Popes and Bishops can be found here. More posts on Refugees and Asylum Seekers
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Migrant and Refugee Office have put Australia’s Senators on notice that they have a moral choice to make. Legislation coming before the upper house of the national parliament places the human dignity of asylum seekers at risk: “The Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill undermines Australian values stating ‘the laws of natural justice do not apply’. Consequently, Senators are faced with a moral decision,” Fr Maurizio Pettenà, Director of the Office said. The Bill is criticized as undermining the Convention on the Status of Refugees and eroding legal protections for asylum seekers in Australia. It proposes to water down the Convention’s definition of a refugee, reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas which increase uncertainty concerning permanent protection and family reunification,and force people seeking protection to navigate a complex legal process without appropriate support and advice. Meanwhile, Bishop Peter Comensoli, Bishop-Elect of Broken Bay (formerly Auxiliary Bishop and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Sydney), has joined a group of prominent Australians in a protest song against the detention of asylum seeker children. The full list of participants is here.
This is a reflection that I wrote for the Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office’s kit for Migrant & Refugee Sunday. You can download the whole kit here. The Holy Family in Exile If you were asked to paint an icon of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, how would you depict them in a symbol or image? The dominant images in the media have been of boats rather than people. When we have glimpsed the people in the boats, we have largely seen men on their own, not whole families. Our faith sources suggest quite a different icon or symbol.